|Briggs doesn't condone the bounty scandal but questions if the Saints did anything illegal. (Getty Images)|
Over the weekend, and before Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma appealed his season-long suspension for his role in the bounty scandal, Bears linebacker Lance Briggs spoke about the difficult balance between player safety and football's intrinsically violent nature.
"Player safety is best taken care of by providing health insurance for players' lives,'' Briggs told the Chicago Tribune's David Haugh. "Come on. It's like asking a boxer: 'Are your injuries related to taking blows to the head?' We throw our bodies around. It's physical. It's football. You can't stop the violence from happening.''
But Briggs, who signed a one-year extension last month, also knows that what the Saints were caught up in was not only wrong, but has no place in the NFL, even if he thinks commissioner Roger Goodell's heavy-handed punishment of Vilma was "a bunch of B.S."
"Let me make one thing clear: I in no way condone somebody putting money up to intentionally hurt someone,'' he said. "But bounty or not, what did the Saints do on the field that's illegal? All I've seen on TV is clean, physical football. You can get those same highlights from any NFL team.''
And it's this sentiment -- the same one the Saints' players (and their lawyers) are making in their appeal -- that gets to the heart of the matter. Football is an inherently dangerous endeavor, and without releasing evidence, it's hard to convict a group of players for wrongdoing without drawing criticism from the NFLPA, players and a subset of fans.
But according to CBA hammered out last summer, Goodell retains the right to not only punish players for off-field issues, but also rule on any appeals coming from those punishments. Which is why Vilma and his teammates (both former and current) are at Goodell's mercy when it comes to their NFL futures.
Either way, Briggs isn't alone in his "It's physical, it's football, you can't stop the violence from happening" beliefs. After former quarterback Kurt Warner admitted that he didn't want his kids playing football because of the injury risk, former wideout Amani Toomer kindly suggested Warner keep his mouth shut.
"Kurt Warner needs to keep his opinions to himself when it comes to this," Toomer said during an appearance on NBC Sports Talk last week. Everything that he's gotten in his life has come from playing football. He works at the NFL Network right now. For him to try and trash the game, it seems to me that it's just a little disingenuous to me."
As PFT's Michael David Smith wrote over the weekend regarding Briggs' comments, "Providing health insurance for retired players is great, but the best way to care for an injury is to prevent it from happening in the first place. It's difficult to square many players' insistence that they want the NFL to take care of them if they're struggling with health problems later in life with many of the same players' insistence that they don't want the NFL to discipline them or their colleagues who break the rules designed to promote player safety."
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